about 200 feet long at a speed of 2 1/2 to 3 knots over the land. The total distance from the bow of the tug to the stern of the barge was about 600 feet. The tug and tow were in charge of the tug's master, a river pilot.
Since the bridge had not opened, the tug's master again blew three blasts. He was heading so as to take the tug and tow to the Delair Channel and then in the Draw Channel through the west draw of the bridge. As he got to a point 3,000 feet above the bridge he saw the Saxon 3,000 feet below the bridge and heading upstream at about 6 knots. The tug's master blew one blast to signal a port-to-port passing. There was no answer. The tug and tow and the Saxon continued their respective speeds toward the bridge, and the bridge opened. About 1 1/2 to 2 minutes later, when he had gotten within about 2,500 feet of the bridge, the tug's master blew a second one-blast signal. At this time he saw the Saxon in Fisher Channel, about 2,600 feet below the bridge. The signal was not answered, and the tug stopped her engines. When the tug was about 1,350 feet above the bridge the tug's master blew a third one-blast signal. At this point the Saxon was headed for the west draw and about 900 feet below the bridge. This signal was also unanswered either because the Saxon did not hear the three signals or because she ignored them. The tug and tow had headway and were moving downstream on the tide and on their own momentum toward the west draw, toward which the Saxon was heading.
Observing that his signals were not answered, the tug's master then blew a tow-blast signal (for a starboard-to-starboard passing) and headed for the east draw of the bridge. This likewise remaining unanswered, the tug's master blew a second two-blast signal.
The Saxon first saw the barge (but not the tug, the view of which was obscured by the bridge) when the Saxon was two ship's lengths (about 900 feet) below the bridge. At this time the Saxon blew a one-blast signal. The barge disappeared from the Saxon's view behind the bridge as the Saxon continued upstream. When the Saxon was halfway through the bridge (in the west draw) it saw the tug and tow 800 to 1,000 feet dead ahead. Both vessels blew the danger signal. When the stern of the Saxon had cleared the bridge it ordered its engines full astern. This had the effect of slowing the ship's forward motion and turning her to her right. The tug and tow meanwhile continued on a course toward their left for the east draw of the bridge, at an angle of about 50 degrees to the course of the Saxon. The tug, finding itself unable to keep itself and its tow out of the Saxon's way, cut the hawser to the barge and, free of this burden, managed to skitter past the bow of the advancing Saxon, missing it by 20 or 30 feet, and turned to the right. This brought the tug in line with the bridge pier at the east end of the open draw.
The barge, uncontrolled by the tug, continued on its course and rammed into the side of the Saxon at a point about 900 feet above the Delair bridge. It bounced off, his her again farther astern, and came to rest alongside the west side of the ship, facing upstream.
The Saxon chose the west draw because it allowed her a longer straight-line course through the bridge (because of the curve of the river) than did the east draw. In taking the west draw she violated the inland narrow channel rule.
'In narrow channels
every steam vessel
shall, when it is safe and practicable, keep to that side of the fairway or mid-channel which lies on the starboard side of such vessel.' 33 U.S.C.A. § 210.
While there was testimony that vessels moving upstream often use the west draw, there was evidence that it was safe and practicable to use the east draw, and I find specifically that when going upstream it would have been safe and practicable, if somewhat more inconvenient, for the Saxon to have used the east draw. Under the circumstances, and particularly in the light of the fact that the Saxon knew that the tug and tow were about to leave the Koppers Coke pier, the use of the west draw by the Saxon was unjustified and improper.
Proctors for the Saxon have cited United States v. Motor Tanker J. A. Cobb, D.C., 182 F.Supp. 234, 1959 A.M.C. 2277 which held that the narrow channel rule did not apply to the drawbridge of the Central Railroad of New Jersey across Newark Bay, where a tug and tow, approaching in a curved channel, used the left-land draw, and there was evidence that for 25 years large vessels with tows proceeding in that direction had used the left-had draw. On several counts, however, the Cobb case is distinguishable from the case at bar. For one thing, the left-land draw of the Newark bridge is 216 feet wide, compared with the 134-foot width of the right-hand one, and was wide enough to permit the vessels which collided in that case to pass each other going through.
More important, however, is the fact that at the time of the collision the Newark Bay bridge tender opened the left-hand draw and kept the right-hand draw closed, leaving the tug and tow no choice of draws.
While proceeding up the wrong side of the channel the Saxon either assumed that there was no danger in the area obscured by the bridge or was completely indifferent to what might be there in much the same way as a motorist might assume that there is no traffic approaching him at a blind intersection. Either of these is negligence.
When the Saxon first saw or should have seen the barge she had time to stop short of the bridge. Not having an unobstructed view, she should have stopped until she knew whether the barge was moving and, if so, to what point. Even as she was clearing the bridge, having had the tug's two-blast signal, she could have gone to her left into deep water above the bridge and avoided the collision. Instead, by reversing her engines, she turned to the right and rendered a collision inevitable.
The Saxon thus was at fault (1) in failing to be alert and to hear and answer the tug's signals, (2) in using the west draw, (3) in assuming there was no danger in a place her view of which was obscured, (4) in failing to stop when she first saw the barge, and (5) in taking action that turned her to her right beyond the bridge.
The Saxon contends that she and the tug-and-tow were on crossing courses and that she was, as the privileged vessel in that situation, not only entitled but in duty bound to hold her course and speed under the Inland Rule which provides:
'When two steam vessels are crossing, so as to involve risk of collision, the vessel which has the other on her own starboard side shall keep out of the way of the other.' 33 U.S.C.A. § 204.
This rule has no application to vessels in a narrow river channel, The Victory (The Plymothian), 1897, 168 U.S. 410, 18 S. Ct. 149, 42 L. Ed. 519.
The privileged vessel here was the tug with her tow, the tide moving them downstream, since it was easier for the Saxon, moving against the tide, to control her movements, The Galatea, 1875, 92 U.S. 439, 23 L. Ed. 727.
While it is obvious that the Saxon could not safely have stopped or changed course during her passage through the drawbridge and that as she left it she had dead ahead of her and blocking her course the tug and tow 600 feet long, the predicament was one she had made for herself. The difficulty facing the tug's master was that he had no way of knowing, until the very last, that the Saxon, in spite of the tug's signals for a port-to-port passing, was about to violate the narrow channel rule and attempt to take the west draw. In this emergency the tug's master took the only course he could that offered any chance of avoiding a collision: turning left and heading with all possible speed for the east draw. Had he continued on his former course, he would have rammed the Saxon. Had he reversed his engines, the collision would not have been avoided, since this action could not have stopped the barge he was towing. Had he turned to the right, with a heavy barge over 300 feet long, having momentum downstream, he ran the risk of having the barge run into the bridge or go aground.
It is contended on behalf of the Saxon that the tug was at fault in failing to blow the danger signal when her previous signals and gone unacknowledged. The sounding of the danger signal at that time, however, would not have prevented the collision, and furthermore the tug was entitled to assume that the Saxon would take the east draw. That course was not only the course which would have been prudent if there were no traffic above the bridge,
but was the course the Saxon should have taken in the light of her knowledge that the tug and tow would be in the river and near the bridge at about that time.
It is also contended on behalf of the Saxon that the tow line was too long and that, therefore, the tug was at fault in failing to 'bunch' her tow in conformity with this provision of the Inspectors' Rules:
'Tows must be bunched above the mouth of the Schuylkill River, Pa.' 33 C.F.R. § 84.4(b).
While there is a dispute as to whether this Rule applies to the Delaware River or to the Schuylkill, this question need not be decided, since it is clear both from the testimony and from a construction of the Rule that the term 'bunching' applies only to the towing of two or more barges by a tug or other type of vessel.
The tug Anna Sheridan, therefore, was free of fault.
In the brief time in which the barge had an opportunity to maneuver on its own after the towline went slack -- and there is no evidence that the barge had any advance notice that the towline would be cut -- the barge might have thrown her rudder to the left or right. This might have changed the points of impact with the Saxon, but would not have prevented the collision. I find the barge T. J. Sheridan, therefore, free of fault.
Decrees will be entered accordingly. The question of damages has been deferred, by stipulation, pending the determination of liability. The facts and law stated in this opinion constitute the court's findings of fact and conclusions of law.